As a major UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Bruges has long been a highlight on the itinerary of international visitors touring northern Europe, who have been drawn to explore its mediaeval streets and canal network. Like many of its European peers, the city has seen a sharp recovery in visitor numbers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and is in the process of reevaluating its strategic goals for tourism with the implementation of a new tourism strategy from 2024 onwards.
Having consistently carried out surveys and consultations in recent years, Bruges has gained a reputation for considering the quality of life of its residents and now was keen to get an honest assessment of visitor management in order to ensure that its new strategy is realistic and well tuned to the needs of the city as these evolve in the future. With this in mind, Visit Bruges asked TOPOSOPHY to set up and supervise a City Scan; that would contribute to an evidence base for building the city’s future tourism strategy.
What did the process involve?
We worked closely with Visit Bruges to design a process that would be as rigorous as possible and gather genuinely useful insights that would highlight areas to be addressed by the future strategy. Therefore, we:
- Helped to select peers with a range of experience from a range of European cities and with different professional backgrounds who could assess the city from different perspectives
- Designed specially tailored surveys to allow each specialist to carry out their assessment
- Carried out pre and post-trip briefings, and facilitated a feedback forum
- Developed a report summarising all findings, together with strategic considerations for both Visit Bruges and the city authorities
Among the invited peers, we were delighted to count on the support of Dieter Hardt-Stremayr, CEO of Graz Tourismus, Maya Janssen, Managing Director Insights & Marketing Strategy at amsterdam&partners, Clemens Költringer, Marketing Analyst, Strategic Destination Development at the Vienna Tourist Board, Inge Krogh Larsen, Changemaker with the Global Destination Sustainability Movement and Jurgen Moors, CEO of Maastricht Convention Bureau.
The five visits, all carried out during a busy period in late June 2023 all produced a lot of food for thought for both the Visit Bruges team and their colleagues in the city government, with key issues such as visitor concentration and dispersal, the management of groups and the need to inspire and inform visitors about the city’s commitment to sustainability all top issues to consider in the development of the new strategy. Above all, there was a strong consensus that the city already performs well at keeping its streets clean and attractive, despite sometimes receiving large numbers of visitors at certain times. Further results and conclusions will be shared by Visit Bruges during the course of its strategy development process in the coming months.
The issues raised during this City Scan are definitely not exclusive to Bruges alone, and the new strategy (due to be published in 2024) will be awaited with much anticipation as historic cities with similar characteristics consider how to maintain their beauty and authenticity, in the face of increasing visitor demand and the wider challenges that we expect cities to face in the coming decade.